Wick: A Complete Guide

Find out all you need to know including what to do, where to stay, where to eat and how to get to Wick, North Scotland.

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About Wick
Along with Thurso, Wick is one of the major coastal towns in Caithness, North Scotland with a population of around 7,000 people. The town is centred around a harbour which in the nineteenth century was the most important herring fishing harbour in Scotland.

Wick Harbour is situated in Pulteneytown, a part of Wick which was developed by Thomas Telford in the early nineteenth century to provide homes for fishmermen's families.

Location
Located along the North Coast 500, a 500-mile coastal driving route around the Northern Highlands, Wick is 14 miles south of John O'Groats, the most north-easterly point of the British mainland, and 104 miles north of Inverness.

What to do in Wick
Wick is fortunate for being easy to enjoy without the benefit of a car as several of its attractions are within the town. However there is more to explore in the surrounding vicinity so a car is nonetheless helpful.

For things to do in Wick itself, consider:

1. Caithness Seacoast 
Boat trips are run of between 30 minutes' and 3.5 hours' length from Wick Harbour, along the Caithness coastline with stops including Whaligoe Steps and Lybster (below), further south along the Caithness coast.

Lybster Harbour

2. Pulteney Distillery
Home to Old Pulteney whisky and the local whisky liqueur, Stroma, the Pulteney Distillery runs guided tours with different whisky tasting options available.

Old Pulteney Whisky

3. Wick Heritage Centre 
For local history, Wick Heritage Centre is a museum which provides a touching insight into the lives of Wick families with an emphasis on the Johnston Collection, a selection of around 50,000 photographs taken from 1863-1975. The museum is less than a minute's walk from Wick Harbour.

4. Wick Gala Week
Wick Gala Week is an annual celebration around early August which includes the crowning of the Gala Queen; a colourful procession of floats, as well as sports, family activities throughout the week in Wick, Caithness.

The celebrations conclude with a free fireworks display at Wick Riverside. Oven baked smoked kippers are traditionally sold on the final night of the celebrations.

Fireworks Display at Wick Gala Week

South Head Quarries Path and the Castle of Old Wick 
If you want to stroll along the coast, there is a walk past Wick Harbour, marina and lighthouse. At the lighthouse, you can either follow the signposts for the lower South Quarries path or proceed up the hill and along the cliff.

Wick Harbour Wick coastal walk

Along the way you pass the Trinkie Pool, where young families sometimes paddle, and continue to the Castle of Old Wick. The walk is beautiful on a winter's morning in January when the sun is rising on the east coast.

Once arrived, you can either return upon yourself to return to the harbour or proceed along the straight path inland until you reach the A99 road to Wick town centre, where you can finish at Mackays Hotel for a whisky or meal. Mackays Hotel is just a few minutes' walk from Wick Railway Station and is located on Ebenezer Place, the shortest street in the world.

Mackays Hotel

Wick Riverside Path
A flat walk or cycle along the Wick River into the countryside around 5 miles round trip in total.

The path begins by the Norseman Hotel in the centre of Wick and continues by Wick campsite on the opposite side of the river. The trail continues along flat terrain, with an array of birds, flowers and wildlife and concludes with a set of steps up a small mound, which provides a peaceful spot to sit in the sun and look across the landscape on a fair day.

The walk is approximately 45-60 minutes in each direction or a 15-20 minute cycle.  

Thistle on Wick Riverside Path

What to do near Wick
With a car, you can explore some of the highlights of the surrounding area. Ideas include:

1. Whaligoe Steps
Totter down the 300 or so steps which take you down the cliff to Whaligoe Harbour. The Whaligoe Steps Cafe is located at the top of the steps for a drink, lunch or dinner. 

For small historic sites near Whaligoe Steps, consider also Hill O'Many Stanes and the Cairn of Get. Lybster Harbour and the Waterlines Museum is just a few miles south.

The Hill O'Many Stanes is a collection of around 200 small stones which date back approximately 4,000 years. The stones are nestled between heather and gorse and sit on a slightly inclined field looking out towards the sea. The hill is around 15 minutes' drive south of Wick along the A99 road, between Whaligoe and Lybster which are each a few minutes' away. 

It is not known by the stones were collected by the community, but it may have been for timekeeping or religious ceremony. You can walk around the perimeter path to view the stones more closely. A visit may take 10-20 minutes.

To get to the Hill O' Many Stanes, the turning inland is clearly marked by a brown Historic Scotland sign. Continuing down a single track road, there is parking for around two cars. The Hill O'Many Stanes is less than a minute's walk from where you park.

2. Camster Cairns
A 20-minute drive from Wick, these two Neolithic cairns are peacefully located near the Camster Forest and would have been probably used as burial chambers some 5,000 years ago.

3. Castle Sinclair Girnigoe
Head north to see this castle ruin which has an unusual form, precariously placed on the cliffside with beautiful rocky textures, bird life and expansive views of the coastline and neighbouring bay, near Noss Head Lighthouse and Ackergill Tower.

4. Reiss Sands
For a long tranquil stroll and ideal for dog walking, visit Reiss Sands when the tide is out. The beach is just 5-10 minutes' drive from Wick and looks out across the sea at Sinclair Bay. The beach is a mix of sand and pebble and has a small stream that runs to the sea.

Ackergill Tower, a privately owned castle and former luxury hotel, can be seen along the coast of Sinclair Bay, after which you see Castle Sinclair Girnigoe and Noss Head Lighthouse. The beach neighbours Wick Golf Course.

Occasionally, seals and orcas can be seen in the ocean. The beach is known, along with Keiss Beach, Duncansby Head and Dunnet Bay, for its sightings of Northern Lights, particularly in the winter and autumnal months. Follow social media and aurora borealis forecasts, to maximise your chance of sightings.

Reiss Sands Noss Head Lighthouse
Ackergill Tower

Lyth Arts Centre
This small arts venue is just a few miles north of Wick and hosts exhibitions, concerts, evenings out and a range of arts activities for the family.

Where to eat in Wick
Wick has a surprising choice of lunch and dinner options for different budgets. For an upmarket lunch or dinner, consider:

  • No.1 Bistro the restaurant of Mackays Hotel serving Scottish cuisine with locally sourced ingredients. The hotel is situated on the shortest street in the world and has a good whisky bar which will often serve a tipple of Stroma, the local whisky liqueur from Pulteney Distillery.
  • Bord De L'Eau a french restaurant with daily fish or seafood specials, locally sourced and delicious dauphinoise potatoes.

For more casual dining:

  • DeVitas Pizzeria Italian cuisine with a focus as a pizzeria, its Italian mealballs are popular with regulars.
  • Alexander Bain A Wetherspoons pub based in the town's former post office, an imposing building on the Market square. Serving affordable meals and drinks including Lavazza coffee, cooked breakfasts and some Scottish favourites among pub lunches and bar food.
  • Morags A playful cafe and cake shop serving tray bakes, Scottish tablet, cooked breakfasts and inventive burgers and sandwiches, with hot drinks. The cafe is home is a variety of children's amusements and a sweet shop.
  • The Rumblin' Tum A converted gas station serving cooked breakfasts and lunches, run by a writer and woodworker who sells his books and handiwork in the shop.

Where to shop in Wick
For gifts and shopping, Wick is best for its local food and alcohol products. However nearby John O'Groats and Thurso have more in the way of arts and crafts.

In Wick, quality local food producers and sellers include:

Caithness Chocolate
Making handmade chocolates including chocolate dipped fruits - such as the medjool dates below, which include milk chocolate with Biscoff; white chocolate with cashew and cranberry; and dark chocolate with walnut and smoked sea salt.

Caithness Chocolate

Bin Ends
An alcohol and spirits shop with an extensive range of whisky and gin as well as local food products and branded glasses.

Stroma

Wick Saturday Market
Attended by Caithness Summer Fruits and sometimes other local producers, you can find a range of jams, chutneys, cakes, biscuits and fresh berries from this Halkirk Croft.

Caithness Summer Fruits

Caithness Coffee Company
For freshly ground coffee, chocolate coffee beans and locally baked products

The Home Bakery, Francis Street
The Cliff Bakery, Francis Street
Selling a range of Scottish sweet cakes, biscuits, breads and pies as well as local products including eggs.

Cliff Bakery

Where to stay in Wick
Hotels

There is a small handful of hotels within Wick including Mackays Hotel, the Norseman Hotel and the Nethercliff Hotel.

  • Mackays Hotel is popular with visitors completing the North Coast 500 and has a good restaurant and whisky bar. The hotel is known for being located on the shortest street in the world. 

Bed and breakfast & self-catering apartments
There are a range of B&Bs, including properties via Airbnb.

Camping
The Wick Caravan & Camping Park is located by the River Wick. Other nearby campsites include John O'Groats (16.5 miles), Dunnet Bay (18.5 miles) and Thurso Bay (21 miles).

How to get to Wick

  • By car: follow the A9 and A99 north from Inverness. The journey is around 2.5 hours.
  • By train: the Far North Railway Line from Inverness to Wick is around 4.5 hours and a picturesque journey through Sutherland (including Lairg, Golspie, Dunrobin Castle and Helmsdale) and the Flow Country (including Forsinard and Altnabreac) and Thurso, Caithness. Plan your journey
  • By bus: the X99 coach from Inverness to Wick is around 3 hours. See the Stagecoach timetable
  • By plane: Wick John O'Groats Airport flies to Edinburgh and Aberdeen daily. Inverness Airport destinations including Scottish cities and Islands as well as London, the UK and Amsterdam, Netherlands.

Where to go next

  • North: to John O'Groats and onwards to the Orkney Islands.
  • South: via the fishing village of Lybster, Dunrobin Castle and to Inverness, the major city in the Scottish Highlands.

Drives

Wick to John O'Groats
Journey by car along the Caithness coastline towards John O'Groats, the most north-easterly point in the UK. The journey takes around 25 minutes and passes turnings for:

Wick-John O'Groats Airport (00:30), Reiss Sands (01:20), Lyth Arts Centre (02:29), Keiss Beach and the ruins of Keiss Castle (02:51), Caithness Broch Centre (03:50) the Puffin Croft Petting Farm and Duncansby Head (06:17) before finally reaching John O'Groats Harbour (06:37), where John O'Groats Ferries and the self-catering apartments, Together Travel, John O'Groats are located.

Wick to Lybster
A late afternoon coastal drive south from Wick to Lybster, a small Caithness fishing harbour known for its fresh crab sandwiches at the Waterlines Museum.

To Camster Cairns
The Camster Cairns are around 20 minutes' drive from Wick. Here is the final part of the journey following single track road south from Watten, with sheep grazing at the roadside in a mellow evening light.

How to get to Reiss Sands and Sinclair Bay
Reiss Sands is around 10 minutes' car journey from Wick, if you proceed north along the A99 from the town centre towards Reiss.

Pass the turning for Ackergill and take the right turn for Wick Golf Course, Reiss Sands and Reiss Lodge. The single track road takes you by Wick Golf Course before arriving at the free car park for Reiss Sands. The car park can accommodate around 10-15 vehicles.

Further resources
For further explorations around the north coast of the Scottish Highlands, see our complete guides to Dunnet and John O'Groats.

Explore some more

  • Created by:
    Scothighlands
  • Uploaded on:
    2020-03-20
  • Tags:
    Things to do , Restaurants , Hotels , Campsites , Accommodation , History , Shopping , Distilleries , Trips and Tours , Beach
  • Locations:
    Wick , Caithness